Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Jose/Silicon Valley

The Legend of Georgia McBride
Los Altos Stage Company
Review by Eddie Reynolds | Season Schedule

Also see Eddie's review of Tarzan


Michael Weiland, Jeffrey Scott Adair,
and Michael Saenz

Photo by Richard Mayer
Since he was a little boy, Casey's vision has been to be the best Elvis impersonator ever. The fact that he is now playing nightly only to a handful of beer-sluggers at Cleo's Bar in Panama City, Florida, does not diminish his bright-eyed enthusiasm. Maybe he only brings home to his wife a few bucks each night, and maybe he has even missed paying the rent for the second month in a row. However, that new white, flared jumpsuit full of red sparkles that he just bought with money he does not have is definitely an investment that will finally make him the star he knows he can be.

That is until he finds out his boss Eddie has fired him and that his wife Jo is pregnant. It is then that, clearly, he sees only one answer looming before him: to become Georgia McBride.

Los Altos Stage Company opens its season with Matthew Lopez's 2015 rib-tickling, heartwarming comedy, The Legend of Georgia McBride—a play brimming with multi-colored wigs, false eyelashes, and size 13 high heels. With the kind of frivolity and fabulousness that only drag queens can provide, The Legend of Georgia McBride also proves how the performing arts—even on a small-town stage full of drag queens—can bring together folks highly diverse in background, gender, gender identity, race, and personality and turn them into one caring, loving family.

Eddie's decision to give the ax to Casey's lip-syncing, arm-waving Elvis becomes easy after first convincing his cousin Norman to help revive the bar's failing business. Norman is more comfortable being called "she" than "he," since he lives and works as Miss Tracy Mills, a drag-circuit queen whose luck is down enough to agree to play in the boonies of Florida to help Eddie out and to keep from being homeless herself. Arriving with her at the roach-prone, paint-peeling dressing room is her sidekick, a vodka-loving, ego-inflated Miss Anorexia Nervosa (Rexy, for short).

When Rexy's bad habits land her passed out mid-show on the dressing room floor, Casey—now a reluctant bartender—is convinced by Miss Tracy and Eddie to forget Elvis and hit his hometown stage in full drag. With frightened eyes as big as saucers (think deer in headlights), he is suddenly readied by Miss Tracy to go on stage in skirt, wig, and lips large and ruby red. All he has to do is to lip-sync an Edith Piaf song in French—a singer and a language, neither of which he knows. As Miss Tracy tells him, "Honey, it is lip sync or swim ... If you can't remember the lyrics, "watermelon motherfucker" will get you through."

Change is in the air, and his gig switch from Elvis to Georgia McBride is just the tip of the iceberg for Casey, for wife Jo, and for everyone else at the club. The journey is going to be full of bumps and grinds (and not just those of queens in the spotlight), and there will definitely be a few bruises along the way. But as Miss Tracy assures him, a drag queen knows that life is about going out "with our tits up and our dicks tucked" and that everything else will eventually take care of itself.

As Casey, Michael Weiland in the beginning looks and acts as if he just starting shaving yesterday. He is still a boy at heart, even if he is married and about to have a kid. He is eternally an optimist with his big smile and bright eyes as he tries to comfort his more realistic, much more worried wife Jo (a brow-knitted, anxious-looking Ashley Jaye), and convince her that not having money to buy rent or groceries is no reason to get so upset.

His easygoingness gets tested as he learns that putting on panty hose is not quite the same as hiking up a pair of jeans, but he does find that he enjoys feeling up his new, stuffed boobs (much to Miss Tracy's disapproval). When Casey discovers night by night a bit more of the feminine side of his straight, cis self, his resurrection to emerge as Georgia is a fun delight to watch. Michael Weiland transforms a stumbling, bumbling Casey into a snappy, sexy Georgia McBride with enough zeal and sass to make his drag mother, Miss Tracy, very proud.

With an air of confidence and a flair for flamboyance, Jeffrey Scott Adair renders an aging Miss Tracy Mills, who clearly has been around a block or two (or probably a few hundred) as a performing drag queen. She is a brash, take-charge queen who also has the kind of heart and soul that those who know the drag world know is there in much abundance.

When Miss Tracy renders before our eyes the metamorphosis of Casey from all-arms-and-legs bartender into a beautiful (if still wobbly and shell-shocked) Georgia McBride, the process is both jaw-dropping in its rapidity and back-slapping in its hilarity. Amidst a constant barrage of one-liners, Miss Tracy does her magic, while Casey learns that not being able to breath when the girdle is properly tightened is the price a girl has gotta pay for a tight tummy and pooched-up boobies.

Local stage favorite Todd Wright has maybe never been any funnier than as club-owner Eddie. His own stage mutations as the nightly show announcer are an ongoing sequence of increasing fun and glamour as his size of audience and revenues skyrocket and his own showmanship blossoms to the point that he is a star in his own right. Along the way, he becomes an example of not just tolerance but of full acceptance and adoration of these men who dress and thrive on stage as women (and along the way he finds a bit of the feminine fling and flair for himself). Mr. Wright is a prime candidate for a "Best Featured Actor" award.

Much of the magic of Michel Saenz's performance is never seen by the audience. Somehow, he switches in what seems only seconds from outlandish, over-the-top drag queen Rexy to good ol' boy Jason—a laid-back, southern-drawling, life-long pal of Casey who also happens to be Casey's rent-demanding landlord. While Jason willingly offers Casey another beer while threatening eviction, Rexy shows nothing but contempt for both straight-boy Casey and that new, uppity queen Georgia, who has taken her spot in the stage lights. However, Mr. Saenz's Rexy also demonstrates that her venomous, bitter demeanor may have some hope for improvement as she too undergoes some surprising transformations to become part of the Cleo clan.

Linda Piccone directs these straights and queens with an eye for showing the humanity and heart that can exist underneath the mascara and rouge, as well as the love that blossoms when folks open their sights to understand there is much more to drag than fakery. Scenes pause briefly in dark as they switch from the three-part, side-by-side staging that Randy Wong-Westbooke has created, where an apartment full of Elvis and a dingy dressing room surround a stage lit in cheesy but colorful lights—all greatly enhanced in details through the properties designed by Ting Na Wang. Craig Vilbig spots the queens with the proper lighting effects, while Gary Landis does a fabulous job ensuring the lip-syncing darlings sound as real as they possibly can through his excellent sound design.

Given this is a show with many (I lost count) costume changes among the three drag queens (appearing as Judy, Barbra, Tammy, Amy, and a parade of other drag faves), kudos galore go to Y. Sharon Peng as costume designer and Jaymz Marez for the styled wigs.

Lots of radical transformations take place during the course of Matthew Lopez's The Legend of Georgia McBride—physical, career, family, fortune, and more importantly, sense of positive self-image and self-worth. As characters expand their universe, attitudes shift on how far boundaries can be pushed into new arenas in order to discover one's true passion. Stereotypes are challenged. Assumptions based in exterior appearances and artificial persona are dealt fatal blows. For all the fake eyelashes flying about, high-heeled boots being tripped over, and falsies being stuffed into glittering gowns, Los Alto Stage Company's production takes time to make important points about the bonding and love that happens behind the scenes among stage performers—even catty, sassy drag queens.

The Legend of Georgia McBride, through September 30, 2018, at Los Altos Stage Company, 97 Hillview Avenue, Los Altos CA. Tickets are available online at losaltosstage.org or Monday - Friday, 3 - 6 p.m. in person at the box office, or by calling 650-941-0551.


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